Haunted. Neverland is haunted. The lagoon is full of skeletons in a place where nothing is supposed to die, and her daughter is out there somewhere. – From Wendy, Darling.
Wendy, Darling by A.C. Wise is both a sequel and a reimagining of Peter Pan that examines what an endless childhood looks like from an adult perspective. It has been 27 years since Wendy, Michael, and John Darling returned from Neverland. Their parents died soon after onboard the Titanic, and Wendy refused to let go of Neverland to the consternation of her brothers.
Michael fought in WW I and returned changed. John commits Wendy to an institution where she spends several years learning to hide her knowledge of Neverland, but never forgets it. She marries, and has a daughter – Jane – and one night Peter Pan arrives at Jane’s window mistaking her for Wendy, and takes the sleeping child to Neverland. Jane goes after her and arrives in a Neverland changed. Captain Hook is gone, the mermaids are dead, and the endless games of Peter are taking on darker tones. Wendy has to remember what she has forgotten about Neverland to have any hope of saving her daughter.
The question of what is Neverland, and the horror of never growing up, is front and center in Wendy, Darling. On Wendy’s first visit to the island, Peter told her his greatest secret, then stole it from her mind when she recoiled in horror. Most of the book has Wendy trying to remember the secret, knowing it’s the key to stopping Peter once and for all. The book also focuses on Jane and her approach to becoming the new “mother” of Peter and the Lost Boys. She is much less tolerant than her mother and puts in motion various plans to escape as Peter’s games become more sadistic.
If you have a fondness for the story of Peter Pan I don’t recommend this one. I never had much of an opinion about it so I enjoyed this much darker re-contextualizing of the story. In Wendy, Darling Peter Pan is the villain. A monster in the shape of a boy who is so terrified of growing up that he refuses to accept it and bullies the Lost Boys, and Jane, because he can. He’s not sympathetic in the least and the book doesn’t try to humanize him, because he is not human we come to find out. There is more than a little political allegory here as well as feminism and the importance of growing up and not letting monsters win because then they “get a taste for it and cannot tolerate losing.” (Huh, who does that remind you of?).
Wendy, Darling is a dark book with dark ideas. Labeled as fantasy I would probably categorize it as horror. The traumas that Wendy has endured are front and center in the narrative and the treatment of her experiences as nothing more than mental illness is harrowing. Yet it is worth reading for fans of reimagined fairy tales and those that like to interrogate the story book fallacy of “happily ever after”.